Better oversight of whistleblower protections afforded by the federal Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) is the aim of a memorandum of understanding signed by leaders of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
The joint effort will strengthen coordination and cooperation between the two agencies, resulting in better anti-retaliation protections for employees of the commercial truck and bus industries. According to OSHA, the memorandum “allows for the exchange of safety, coercion and retaliation allegations when received by one agency, that fall under the authority of the other.”
The STAA shields drivers and other individuals working for commercial motor carriers from retaliation for reporting violations of certain commercial motor vehicle safety, health, and security conditions. Too often, an employee who witnesses wrongdoing and voices his concerns to supervisors or government authorities experiences a backlash that results in undue stress, loss of employment, and a ruined career and reputation.
“Commercial vehicle drivers who report injuries, hazards and illegal work practices should not fear retaliation for speaking out about unsafe work conditions,” said OSHA Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels. “Through this agreement, we are sending a clear message that silencing workers who try to do the right thing is unacceptable for workers and also unsafe for the public.”
Both OSHA and the FMCSA play key roles in protecting both commercial drivers and other motorists on the road. OSHA investigates complaints of retaliation filed by employees of the commercial truck and bus companies, while the FMCSA regulates both industries to ensure they and their drivers comply with federal safety regulations, including driver on-duty hours-of-service limits to prevent fatigue, commercial driver’s licenses rules, medical qualifications, drug and alcohol testing, hazardous materials safety standards, and others.
OSHA has processed more than 2,800 formal complaints under the STAA in the last nine years. Many of the cases involve drivers who were terminated for voicing safety concerns or refusing to break the law by driving excessive hours.
Under the agreement, the FMCSA will refer employees who complain of retaliation to OSHA, and OSHA will provide FMCSA with copies of complaints filed and findings issued under STAA. The agencies will report to each other annually on information shared during the previous year.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said that the strengthened partnership will include sharing reports of coercion — companies forcing or intimidating truck or bus drivers to violate federal safety regulations.
“Pressuring drivers to stay behind the wheel beyond their hours-of-service limits, or to disregard other federal safety rules, seriously jeopardizes the safety of every traveler on our highways and roads,” Adminstrator Ferro said. “Commercial truck and bus companies that knowingly endanger the motoring public, or retaliate against whistleblowing employees, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”